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What is “l’ignorant” lauching at? - Javier Marroquí

The work of many of the most prolific artists of recent years shares something in common: the desire of those artists to reproduce their own image time and again. Their motives to do so are, of course, very different: some of them have a lyrical intention to produce an art that is intimate and confessional1; others inevitably have to do it because their own body constitutes the object of an action often recorded in video or in photographs. Many others, let’s say it straight, do it for pure narcissism or even snobbism. And others take their own image and reproduce it to carry out a critical evaluation of the role of today’s artists. Be that as it may, the artist’s will to portrait himself/herself is at the same time cause and effect of the transformations that the concept of artist has undergone during the last decades.

 

Rafel G. Bianchi is not precisely known for abusing of this resource of self-representation. Nevertheless, we can find a series of works in which he has somehow included his image. Apart from the work in question, No preguntis a l’ignorant (Don’t ask the ignoramus), we can point out to different pieces, such as his various cut-out series, in which the character that appears running is a caricature of the artist; or his artwork Un inglés, un francés y un español2 (An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Spaniard) where portrayed as the main character of a comic strip which is placed next to a swing explicitly wrong designed by Bianchi, he faces the perplexity that his own work causes to him. In a completely different way, we can see Rafel himself in a piece made for the newspaper La Vanguardia and named Las 8 diferencias (The Eight Differences): the piece consisted of a photograph of himself next to two characters wearing Santa hats which is reproduced twice, and invited the reader to look for non-existent differences between the photographs. The No preguntis a l’ignorant self-portrait is a two metre sculpture in fibreglass made to a privileged 1:1 scale. It is not a hyper realistic sculpture, though. Far from it. It reminds more of a Playmobil type of toy rather than the very Rafel. Those figures, as all our generation surely remembers, were sold with accessories to provide them with an identity. There was the Indian, the cowboy, the cop, the pirate… this one would be something like the artist, but of course, lacking the easel that would be included as a Playmobil toy.

 

No preguntis a l’ignorant (2005), Rafel G. Bianchi

The use of this technique and the aspect of toy given to l’ignorant are perfect to represent the contrast of ideas that Bianchi wants to show. That is because, even though an artist and the image he or she projects have profoundly changed, the general public still has the tendency to picture an artist as a genius, an image promoted by modernity that the mass media and particularly cinema insist on spreading. One only has to take a quick look at Hollywood productions about artists in recent years: the artist is a character which, with its characteristic exceptionality, fluctuates between genius and eccentricity as if those two shared sameness, with a defining characteristic that makes him or her stand out among the crowd. But, of course, this is not just a fantastic invention—it has a touch of reality to hold on to. That exceptional figure of an artist did exist; at least that was the image projected by many artists during decades. There are two outstanding moments in the prolificacy of this concept: Romanticism and the avant-garde movements aptly referred to as “heroic”. From all the stereotyped images of an artist, I especially like those of the tormented artist and the hero. The first one would live that kind of unbearable angst of knowing the profound reality of his own existence, something which escaped the ordinary people. The hero, was someone (often a man) who for any given reason, mostly the same as the tormented artist, was forced to become a leader, a bellwether of human progress. That overwhelming responsibility for them would now make any modern artist smile awkwardly.

 

Bianchi makes those stereotyped images collide with that toy which represents l’ignorant. The artist, a profoundly tragic or tremendously heroic figure, is here a frowny character with open hands, smiling and shrugging his shoulders in a “How would I know? Why are you even asking me?” type of gesture. The artist represented here by Bianchi is someone who does not know and/or cannot do anything, but is also a funny and amusing character. The face reminds of one of the heads that the Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) made during his retirement in Pressburg. Messerschmidt’s case3 is exemplary here: he went down in history as one of those cases of a cursed artist, a crazy genius. It seems that, disconsolate because he hadn’t been named chair of the Academy’s sculpture department, he locked himself in his country house and dedicated himself to the production of a series of busts in which he intended to study and reproduce every single face that human beings are capable of making. Much to his regret, that task, which could be considered academic given the exhaustive investigation of physiognomy it requires, eventually got surrounded by myths. The final outcome stands out formally in an extraordinary way among the sculpture production of the time. To produce those faces, those extremely forced facial expressions, Messerschmidt used his face as a model making those bizarre faces in front of the mirror every other minute. And there is the fact that he had demonstrated signs of a behaviour to a certain extent eccentric and unsociable. To exhaust the patience of his contemporary witnesses, he performed those studies isolated from his colleagues and the world. The final result is that his production, once time had passed and the myths had spread, became publicly known as the work from an artist whose extraordinary genius made him lose his head.

 

Busto de Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783)

It does not matter whether he was crazy, depressed, or apathetic; Bianchi considered one of his faces perfect for the play on meanings which the self-portrait of l’ignorant proposes (although I doubt that we should consider that self-portrait as such, because Bianchi, obviously has no intention to portrait himself but to create, as he himself said, “a post-romantic view of an artist”). And it is not something chosen because of the circumstances: Bianchi’s career path in recent years is specifically directed to projects that show his concern for the current conception of an artist, “which he thinks is placed between necessity and absurdity”4. No preguntis a l’ignorant, in my opinion is categorical: the artist turned into a buffoon.

 

The characterisation of an artist in No preguntis a l’ignorant is a mannequin which could perfectly be placed in a theme park. It reminds of one of those characters costumes – by the way, made with the same materials – which can be seen in Parque Warner Madrid, Port Aventura or Terra Mítica5, theme parks that follow the path of the pioneer Disney World, the biggest example of the expansion of capitalism into the world of entertainment. This expansion is also evident in the domain of culture. Right there is where l’ignorant stands: in a world where the domains of entertainment and culture tend to mingle under the control of global imperial capitalism. And l’ignorant in the middle, without knowing or being able to do anything. Gone are the members of the avant-garde who believed that it was possible to change society by means of art. We all have seen them fail. After that, l’ignorant‘s attitude seems the only possible one: open hands, frowning face, but more important, the comical smile of a buffoon. Bianchi avoids both the attitude of heroism and the attitude of suffering the torment of failure. He keeps working and accepts his limitations and the fact that working inside the system suppresses any vanguardist intentions. But still, he smiles. That is how a buffoon lives: working inside the court, for the court, but with an important difference: the possibility to laugh at the court. The buffoon has always had that power. Bianchi understands that this is the potentiality an artist has to embrace in modern society. The buffoon is allowed to make a living by doing things that the rest of the people is not allowed to do. So we also see here the convenience of recovering the role of a buffoon and including it in the concept of an artist. To spend one’s life laughing and playing is a way of protesting against any form of political organisation and a clear sign of resistance to any form of authority or dominion. So we’d all better start laughing.

 

NOTES

1. Pardo, Tania, «Arte confesional. Lo doméstico: territorio (des) conocido» in Lápiz: Revista Internacional de Arte, April 2003 (issue 192)
2. We can find out more about this work in the catalogue for the exhibition in Casal Solleric: Art for fun (Catálogo de exposición), Palma de Mallorca, Fundació “Sa Nostra”, 2007.
3. We can track down his story in the well-known book by Wittkower, M. and Wittkower, R., Born Under Saturn. New York. Random House. 1963.
4. Armengol, David «El artista taxidermista», in Eufòria_01: Happy family (Catálogo de exposición), Barcelona, Fundació “la Caixa”, 2007.
5. Translator’s Note: Well-known theme parks in Spain.

 

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